In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Valente's Lectura de Paul CelanTranslation and the Heideggerian Tradition in Spain
  • Jonathan Mayhew (bio)

Escribir es como la segregación de las resinas; no es acto, sino lenta formación natural. Musgo, humedad, arcillas, limo, fenómenos del fondo, y no del sueño o de los sueños, sino de los barros oscuros donde las figuras de los sueños fermentan. Escribir no es hacer, sino aposentarse, estar [Writing is like the secretion of resins; it is not an act, but a slow natural formation. Moss, humidity, clays, mire, phenomena of the depths, and not of sleep or of dreams, but of the dark soils where the figure of dreams ferment. To write is not to act, but to settle, to be].

—José Angel Valente, Material memoria

The career of José Angel Valente (1929–2000) took shape slowly and organically over the course of several decades. As he himself suggests in this prose poem from Mandorla, his writing is an unhurried process of development analogous to the formation of natural substances. Ultimately, the process by which his work assumed its definitive identity, especially in the final two decades of his life, was both prolonged and coherent, yielding a poetic work of enormous seriousness and depth.

Valente emerged in the 1950s as one of several poets subsequently included by literary historians in the so-called "generation of the 1950s," one of whose trademark gestures was the use of an ironic, often self-deprecating speaker intent on subtly denouncing the moral mediocrity of Francoist society in general and coopted intellectuals in particular. In the 1980s, however, during Spain's transition to democracy, he increasingly distanced himself from his generational contemporaries. At the time of his death on July 18, 2000, he was identified primarily as the standard bearer of a belated though still powerful "high modernist" tradition in Spanish poetry.1 The shift from the socially oriented poetry of his first books to the "essentialist" modernism of the 1980s and 1990s took place gradually, in a series of books published in the 1960s and 1970s, so that it is impossible to establish a clear line of demarcation between the early and the late Valente. It is clear, however, that Valente's unique role within recent Spanish poetry was to be the intellectual leader of those poets championing the belated avant-garde/modernist tradition in contemporary Spain.

In this role, Valente became a fierce and intransigent critic of the so-called "poesía de la experiencia" of the 1980s—a movement purporting to revive the "realist" poetics of Valente's own generation, and even, as its alternate name "nueva sentimentalidad" [End Page 73] [Begin Page 75] suggests, those of the towering figure of middle-of-the-road Spanish modernism: Antonio Machado. According to poet Juan Bonilla, "Se distinguió Valente, el último Valente, por una desabrida y violenta denuncia de la perezosamente denominada poesía de la experiencia, acusando a los poetas principales de esta tendencia de ser representantes del Poder y la Oficialidad, caricaturizando sus versos y rebajándoles la calidad con opiniones contundentes que parecían proceder más del rencor que de un examen ajustado de sus obras [Valente, the late Valente, was notable for a harsh and violent denunciation of what is lazily called the poetry of experience, accusing the main poets of this tendency of being representatives of Power and Officialdom, caricaturing their poetry, and denigrating their quality with extreme opinions that seemed to stem more from rancor than from a judicious examination of their works]" [5].2 While Valente's later poetry is genuinely powerful, I would contend that his public role as defender of high modernist standards is at least as significant as his actual poetic works in establishing his preeminent position. Claudio Rodríguez is arguably a more gifted poet than Valente; yet Rodríguez was not inclined (or able) to become an influential literary critic or public intellectual. Valente, in contrast, developed a coherent (almost single-minded) and intransigent poetic philosophy that won him a small but unified group of adherents, along with a host of enemies. The same intransigence decried by Bonilla and other supporters of poetic "realism" was a quality...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 73-89
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.